5 Wartime-Era Songs from WWII

“There is no burden so heavy, no night so long that it cannot be eased by music,” said Florence Aby Blanchfield, superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps during World Wars I and II.

Videos by American Songwriter

In the 1910s, big bands and early jazz dominated, yet radio was still in its infancy during World War I. By the onset of WWII, music was an integral facet of the culture. It helped serve as a tool for unity and as a boost to the morale of those serving in the armed forces when they had the rare moment to catch Glenn Miller and His Orchestra’s “Moonlight Serenade,” My Sister and I” by Jimmy Dorsey, and more by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and the big bands on the radio.

Already entertaining the troops early on, Glenn Miller and His Orchestra could also be heard on his weekly radio program. Vera Lynn also soothed a nation at war with her wistful croons on songs like “We’ll Meet Again,” one that resonated with servicemen leaving their loved ones. The nostalgic “Lili Marleen,” which was originally a German song later translated into English, also became popularized during WWII among the Axis and the Allied.

[RELATED: 5 War-Themed Tracks That Inspire Hope and Courage]

Dozens of songs written from 1939 through 1945 reflected many of the sentiments that arose within the wartime era. Here’s a look into just five songs from the era that also captured the greatest generation.

1. “Moonlight Serenade,” Glenn Miller and His Orchestra (1939)
Written by Glenn Miller and Mitchell Parish

Of the more than 16 million Americans who served during World War II, nearly 100,000 came home married to someone they met overseas, which eventually led to the Baby Boom. These wartime unions may have had something to do with the big band swing of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade,” a jazz classic that ended up defining the generation.

Originally recorded and released in 1939 as an instrumental and later set to lyrics, “Moonlight Serenade” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard charts and remained there for 15 weeks. In 1943, the U.S. War Department released “Moonlight Serenade” and by then it had become an anthem for the Greatest Generation.

At the peak of his career, Miller joined the Army Air Forces and continued broadcasting his radio show for the troops. When he was deployed overseas in 1944, soon after Miller died in a plane crash and was lost at sea.

“Moonlight Serenade” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1991.

I stand at your gate and the song that I sing is of moonlight
I stand and I wait for the touch of your hand in the June night
The roses are sighing a Moonlight Serenade
The stars are aglow and tonight how their light sets me dreaming
My love, do you know that your eyes are like stars brightly beaming?
I bring you and sing you a Moonlight Serenade
Let us stray till break of day
In love’s valley of dreams
Just you and I, a summer sky
A heavenly breeze kissing the trees

2. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” The Andrews Sisters (1941)
Written by Don Raye and Hughie Prince

Perhaps one of the more upbeat songs from the time, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” was originally released months before the U.S. officially entered WWII in the Abbott and Costello film Buck Privates. Reworked for The Andrews Sisters, the transformed into the trio’s signature song.

In 1972, the song had a revival when Bette Midler covered it on her album The Divine Miss M. her version, more than 60 years later, went to No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

He was a famous trumpet man from out Chicago way
He had a boogie style that no one else could play
He was the top man at his craft
But then his number came up and he was gone with the draft
He’s in the army now, a blowin’ reveille
He’s the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B

They made him blow a bugle for his Uncle Sam
It really brought him down because he couldn’t jam
The captain seemed to understand
Because the next day the cap’ went out and drafted a band
And now the company jumps when he plays reveille
He’s the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B

3. “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover,” Vera Lynn (1942)
Written by Walter Kent and Nat Burton

Vera Lynn already captured the wartime sentiment with her more nostalgic 1939 song “We’ll Meet Again,” and often played for those serving in munitions factories. Lynn also entertained the troops in England with her a weekly radio spot Sincerely Yours.

Though Glenn Miller and His Orchestra also recorded the song about the battles taking place in the sky over the English Channel, it was Lynn’s 1942 rendition turned the song into a rallying cry. Originally composed by Walter Kent and written by Nat Burton in 1941, “The White Cliffs of Dover” became one of the most popular songs during World War II.

Burton originally wrote “The White Cliffs of Dover” a year after the Royal Air Force and German Luftwaffe aircraft fought over southern England, including the white cliffs in Dover, England during the Battle of Britain. By 1941, Germany had already occupied much of Europe and was still bombing Great Britain.

A teen when WWII broke out, “The White Cliffs of Dover” also became a favorite song of the late Queen Elizabeth II, who requested it be played on her 90th birthday.

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Tomorrow, just you wait and see

There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after
Tomorrow, when the world is free

The shepherd will tend his sheep
The valley will bloom again
And Jimmy will go to sleep
In his own little room again

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Tomorrow, just you wait and see

4. “When the Lights Go On Again (All Over the World),” Vaughn Monroe & His Orchestra (1942)
Written by Eddie Seiler, Sol Marcus, Bennie Benjamin

This more somber big band hit expressed hope for the end of the war. First recorded by Vaughn Monroe, “When the Lights Go On Again (All Over the World),” went to No. 2 on the charts, just shy of the top, where Bing Crosby‘s “White Christmas” was set.

When the lights go on again all over the world
And the boys are home again all over the world
And rain or snow is all that may fall from the skies above
A kiss won’t mean “goodbye”, but “Hello to love”

When the lights go on again all over the world
And the ships will sail again all over the world
Then we’ll have time for things like wedding rings and free hearts will sing
When the lights go on again all over the world

5. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Bing Crosby (1943)
Written by James Kimball “Kim” Gannon

Written by Kim Gannon and composed by Walter Kent, who also worked on “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” and recorded by Bing Crosby, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” echoed soldiers hopes of returning for the holidays.

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents by the tree

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Please have some snow and mistletoe
And presents by the tree

Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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